2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8 new car reviews

We all agreed that the new Challenger has a lot of things going for it in the looks department.
Why doesn't the Avenger look like a baby version of this?
There's nothing else on the road that looks even close to the new Challenger—except, perhaps, the original.
The front seats were spacious and comfortable.
Did we mention it's got a Hemi?
The gauges feature a cleverly packaged performance meter.
Big wheels, big tires, big brakes. Unfortunately, big weight as well.

Better than: Two Dodge Caliber SRT4s
But not as good as: Ford Shelby GT500
GRM Bang For The Buck Index: 81.67

When our crew returned to the office from The Mitty a few weeks back, a brand-new SRT8 was waiting patiently in the parking lot. The drag-ass Monday that typically follows this demanding event was instantly revived; our staff turned into schoolchildren as we chattered about the Challenger's impressive specs and handsome lines.

We've been hearing about the new Challenger for what seems like years. Aside from triggering our nostalgic and patriotic buttons, the promise of rear-wheel drive, a 425-horsepower V8 and a six-speed transmission made the SRT8 a very attractive prospect on paper.

Speaking of attractive, this driveline is housed in one of the best-looking bodies to come out of Detroit since Madonna, especially given the offerings from the Auburn Hills-based Chrysler corporation in recent years. The Challenger has all the right lines to recall the original without seeming trapped in the past.

With its towering pro column, everybody wanted to test out this modern muscle car. From the first turn of the key, the crisp exhaust note promised performance that would live up to the hype. We were surprised to see the car equipped with a hill-holding clutch, especially with 420 lb.-ft. of torque available, but the system worked and wasn't terribly intrusive.

There's little doubt that SRT8 makes an eye-catching, comfortable cruiser. However, we were a little underwhelmed at the car's overall performance when pushed. It's fast enough, but it isn't the road bully that we were expecting. It doesn't take a magazine editor to figure out that this is due, at least in part, to the 4000-plus-pound curb weight. The car also feels massive to park and drive around town.

There's nothing to hate about the SRT8, but it doesn't quite live up to its world-beating promise. It's available today and has the potential to be highly collectible, so if you have the space to park one for a few decades, it could be a solid investment. As far as a reborn muscle car with modern performance, however--let's just cross our fingers for the Camaro.

Other staff views

David S. Wallens David S. Wallens
Editorial Director

It looks pretty cool and has plenty of forward thrust. My talking points:

  • It's big--like really big--which I guess shouldn't be a surprise since it's based on the maker's LX platform. Other LX platform offerings include the Chrysler 300, Dodge Magnum and Dodge Daytona. The proportions are right, but the scale is bigger than you'd expect. Don't forget, those are 20-inch wheels. If only this car were 7/8th scale.

  • Should a two-person pony car really weigh more than 4000 pounds? I know that traditional muscle cars were big, but this is supposed to be something a bit more maneuverable.

  • It might be Chrysler's nicest interior to date--the materials are definitely a step in the right direction. The basic steering wheel doesn't help, though, as it really sticks out. You should never skimp on the things that you touch. Upgrade the wheel and tack on another hundred bucks to the MSRP. I doubt that anyone will complain.

  • This probably sounds like a minor issue, but a foot-operated parking brake in a sporty car? Really? I know it comes from the sedan DNA, but it's one thing that we all noticed.

This one is a conundrum. It shows that Chrysler wants to get back into the performance game. On the other hand, obviously they didn't have the bucks to invest in a proper chassis. While muscle cars and pony cars have traditionally worked with whatever was available, this one makes some compromises in doing so. Unfortunately, those compromises make for a big, heavy car. Let's hope that the Challenger gets people thinking about Chryslers--and back into the showrooms.

This one also left me eager to try one of the "lesser" models. The Challenger R/T starts at $30,000 and still has a V8. Yeah, it's not a Hemi, but maybe it's the right mix of style, performance and price. At $42k, I see the SRT8 only appealing to hardcore Mopar freaks, not those would be cross-shopping against a Mustang or even a BMW 3 Series.

J.G. Pasterjak JG Pasterjak
Production/Art Director

Okay, how’s this for brutally honest: It kinda blows trees full of chimps.

Like Tom said, there’s little to hate, but for me it was rather disappointing in that it felt like somewhere, under all that extra bulk and weirdness, was maybe a good car. For a car with a supposed 425hp it felt lazy and sluggish. My LS1 Vette felt faster and more urgent. Hell, my MS3 feels faster and more urgent.

Where the new Mustang has a “retro” feel to it, the Challenger just feels “old.” It’s like they sat down in a boardroom and said “let’s make it just like the old Challenger in every way, right down to the vague steering from a wheel placed too close to the dash.” The whole package feels dated.

And it’s big. Like, uncomfortable to park big. Where’s all my gas money? big. Was my neighbor’s fence attached to the hood of this at the dealership? big.

One good thing. Best.Shifter.Ever. Hands down. Usually high power cars have beefy shifters that demand beefy guys to throw them beefily at a wall of beef, but not he Dodge. It’s like a Miata shifter, and seems never destined for the wrong gear, or to arrive in it’s slot a microsecond to early or too late. Well done, there.

Rest of it. Meh.

Greg Voth Greg Voth
Dork

I echo the sentiments of many of the other staffers. The car IS big and feels big in everything it does. It also is expensive. The Challenger sounds awesome, looks great, the interior is comfortable, and it drives rather nicely. It might be the weight but it did not feel 425 hp fast. However the little in dash G Meter said it ran to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds with some wheel-spin in first gear. That is not slow. Also be prepared for the attention the car attracts. I had a Camaro SS owner stop me, a couple random people tell me "nice car" and someone in a parking lot asking me to "smoke those tires".

My overall experience was positive aside from the size and price. There was also this nagging feeling telling me I could get all the performance from a slightly used CTS-V or GTO for about 20k less.

Scott Lear Scott Lear

I didn't spent too much time with the Challenger, but I don't feel like I got cheated out a grand opportunity. This is not a car that appeals to me; it's huge, insanely heavy, primitive and inefficient. I do think it looked better in silver than any of the hey-lookit-me colors that are offered, and the styling is distinctive, but I'm not bonkers for old Challengers so it didn't particularly appeal to me.

A big V8 with SRT badging should make the driver wet their pants when they stab the throttle, but this barge doesn't do anything so dramatic. The SRT8 Jeep we had a few years back was way more exciting in a straight line. It sounded okay inside the cockpit, but outside it was downright flatulent. Not cool.

Inside, the retro touches did indeed hearken back to times of yore, but retro styling for its own sake isn't as cool as it was a few years back. And there certainly wasn't a ton of room inside for a 4000 pound monster barge.

If I were shopping for something in this price range that was stylish, really heavy, had tons of horsepower and torque and excelled at cruising and the occasional stoplight drag, it would be two or three years old and have an tri-star on the front and an AMG logo on the back.

EDIT: Oh, and one more thing. The parking brake was of the oh-so sporty foot pedal variety. What. The. Hell. That's like watching Megan Fox drop trou and discovering that she's got a vestigial tail.

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Comments

View comments on the GRM forums
Tom Heath
Tom Heath UberDork
5/19/09 4:52 p.m.

And you wonder why we haven't been able to borrow a Genesis Coupe yet...

johnhammer
johnhammer New Reader
5/19/09 8:38 p.m.

It's a heck of a hotrod, but I agree with the review. I'm the lead facilitator for the SRT Track Experience (every SRT comes with a day at the track as part of the purchase of the car) and as we've pushed the Challenger on the track, we were surprised to find we actually prefer the Charger SRT8 at the limits.

However, as a cruise-mobile on Gratiot Avenue, there are few cars that have the visceral oomph of the Challenger SRT8. I'll take mine in Hemi Orange with an intake & exhaust kit!

Javelin
Javelin MegaDork
5/19/09 9:06 p.m.

Sorry Johnhammer, it still looks like a fat chick who's been in the ho-hos. In any of the bland colors (white/silver/black) it blends into the background as anonymously as any other boring car. It's too heavy to be fast or particularly good at any sort of track driving, and it's too gargantuan to be cool for more than 2 seconds. I'd rather spend the money on a real Challenger (71 440 R/T thanks) and still have enough left over for an SRT4 Neon.

Sorry but GRM is normally brutally honest about cars and I find it a very, very hard pill to swallow that the lightweight-lovers have nothing but praise for this obese pig. I'm a muscle car guy and I don't even like it!

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/19/09 10:20 p.m.

Sadly, some of us on staff have already posted our comments. Why they're not appearing, I don't know. Hopefully they'll show up soon.

Wowak
Wowak SuperDork
5/20/09 12:48 a.m.

JG always makes me chuckle.

Teh E36 M3
Teh E36 M3 SuperDork
5/20/09 2:41 a.m.

And P71 has driven one when? I have not driven one. It sure seems like you're asking GRM to E36 on a car before they even have the chance to do so themselves. I didn't think the initial review was all that positive.

As to the "fast and more urgent" argument--- JG, I think you're one of the best automotive journalists in the business, but what did you expect? The challenger is not an M3. It's a musclecar. Of course the Vette is going to be faster and more urgent, it weighs 800lbs less. The MS3 weighs 1000+ lbs less. They can't help but be more urgent.

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
5/20/09 7:45 a.m.

Yeah the Vette and the MS3 weigh almost half a ton less, but they also have over 100 less horsepower. I expected 425hp to have some snap, even if it is carrying around two tons of fun. Maybe it's like the 944 where all it needs is a recalibrated throttle curve to wake it up. There's just an overall sluggishness to the package. Infiniti, Lexus, BMW, Audi and others all seem to know how to make a 4000lb car seem at least somewhat nimble. Heck, even the Charger felt sportier than the Challenger.

Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA Dork
5/20/09 11:58 a.m.

Two tons is disgusting, period.

Teh E36 M3
Teh E36 M3 SuperDork
5/20/09 1:21 p.m.

Ok, now I understand a little better what you were talking about. I was thinking an urgency like a mini has (handling etc).

Two tons is disgusting- agreed, but I don't think it was ever pretending to be anything other than what it is: a yank tank, straight line stoplight cruiser. It does surprise me that 425hp isn't urgent thrust, even in a 4000lb package.

Greg Voth
Greg Voth Dork
5/20/09 1:21 p.m.

I would have to disagree with P71, the Challenger did stand out in its pedestrian silver paint. In the short 3 hour time-span I had the car running errands and grabbing dinner. I was approached and asked about it by four people and at every stop light it was getting checked out.

Javelin
Javelin MegaDork
5/20/09 1:49 p.m.

I have driven one actually. Not the SRT8, but a 6-Speed R/T which still has a very healthy HEMI V8 in it. The car was just too damn big. Like David said, it needs to be 7/8th scale. I'm a big guy at 230Lbs and the seats were so wide it felt like sitting on a sofa. We actually measured the width at the shoulder and they're wider then the pseudo-benches in my P71. I feel like a teenager who hasn't quite reached the pedals yet in that thing.

Watching the Silver V6 one try to autocross earlier this year was so funny some of the corner workers actually cried.

Teh E36 M3
Teh E36 M3 SuperDork
5/20/09 4:43 p.m.

Even big for a big guy? Holy smokes. I only sat in one at the auto show- did seem pretty big but I didn't get the whole feel without driving it. I guess that's why I admire them for what they are, but always felt that smaller/lighter cars were the answer. Less weight requires less tire, requires less brake (and less weight in turn), etc etc.

rickgonz
rickgonz
5/20/09 4:45 p.m.

If you all care to compare late 60s/early 70s Camaros & Mustangs with the Challengers of those days, you will find that Challengers were always larger & heavier. If you like small light cars, stick to Miatas.

jrg77
jrg77 Reader
5/21/09 1:42 a.m.

It doesn't have to be Miata-size to know that it can lose some weight and tighten up the electronics. I may be wrong, but the whole idea of the muscle car era was to put a big engine in a smaller than midsize car at a really cheap price and have some fun. Excluding the Mustang (Ugh!) all of these later versions miss the point. They are all T-bird makeovers. It is a shame that no one makes a 200hp rwd 6spd for 25k or less at the weight of say a Civic or Corolla.

confuZion3
confuZion3 UltraDork
8/10/09 10:30 p.m.

It is a stunning car. I really want to get behind the wheel of one and see what they are all about. There was a vendor at the NY auto show with a couple of 750 and 850 hp versions of the car. I asked him how much weight they took out... he laughed and said they were looking into that for the next version.

Meh. If you want a lighter muscle car, buy a Mustang or Camaro (or M3). Or a Monster Miata. And they're not aiming at cars like the Corvette anyway with this car. That's what the Viper is for, right?

You guys drove it, so you know the story. If I'm average Joe American, I'd say they pretty much got it right from the sound of it (especially after some engine spunkification). I hear it will go 170 right from the factory.

Nice article. I thought it sounded fair.

Tom Heath
Tom Heath UberDork
12/10/13 12:00 a.m.

When our crew returned to the office from The Mitty a few weeks back, a brand-new SRT8 was waiting patiently in the parking lot. The drag-ass Monday that typically follows this demanding event was instantly revived; our staff turned into schoolchildren as we chattered about the Challenger's impressive specs and handsome lines.

We've been hearing about the new Challenger for what seems like years. Aside from triggering our nostalgic and patriotic buttons, the promise of rear-wheel drive, a 425-horsepower V8 and a six-speed transmission made the SRT8 a very attractive prospect on paper.

Speaking of attractive, this driveline is housed in one of the best-looking bodies to come out of Detroit since Madonna, especially given the offerings from the Auburn Hills-based Chrysler corporation in recent years. The Challenger has all the right lines to recall the original without seeming trapped in the past.

With its towering pro column, everybody wanted to test out this modern muscle car. From the first turn of the key, the crisp exhaust note promised performance that would live up to the hype. We were surprised to see the car equipped with a hill-holding clutch, especially with 420 lb.-ft. of torque available, but the system worked and wasn't terribly intrusive.

There's little doubt that SRT8 makes an eye-catching, comfortable cruiser. However, we were a little underwhelmed at the car's overall performance when pushed. It's fast enough, but it isn't the road bully that we were expecting. It doesn't take a magazine editor to figure out that this is due, at least in part, to the 4000-plus-pound curb weight. The car also feels massive to park and drive around town.

There's nothing to hate about the SRT8, but it doesn't quite live up to its world-beating promise. It's available today and has the potential to be highly collectible, so if you have the space to park one for a few decades, it could be a solid investment. As far as a reborn muscle car with modern performance, however--let's just cross our fingers for the Camaro.

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